SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah County critical care physician pleaded Thursday with Utah residents to “wear a mask, wash their hands and keep their distance.”
“This is a miserable, persistent, ugly disease and whatever we can do to prevent it, we ought to do,” said Dr. Clark Bishop, who works in the intensive care unit and as a pulmonary physician at Intermountain Healthcare’s Utah Valley Hospital. He said he is “deeply saddened” by the ongoing debate regarding masks and the virus in his home county.
“It doesn’t need to be contentious,” Bishop said. “There are some things we do know ... masks make a difference.”
The Utah Department of Health reported another 1,008 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday.
To date, there have been 74,050 known infections and 459 deaths due to COVID-19 in Utah. No new deaths in Utah due to COVID-19 were reported on Thursday.
“These are not just numbers, these are people,” Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday during his weekly COVID-19 update at the state Capitol. He said surges are happening all over the country and are “not unique to Utah,” but are frustrating to everyone, nonetheless.
“It’s impacted us all. We’re all probably tired of this and wish it would go away,” he said. “Hopefully with the vaccine, things will get better soon.”
Herbert defended the state’s actions early in the pandemic after a new audit shows officials could have done more.
“In hindsight, there’s a lot of things we could’ve done better,” he said, adding that “there’s no end to people willing to criticize.”
“Some of us out there are part of the problem,” Herbert said.
He said pandemics are not an easy thing to prepare for and “the whole world was caught off guard” with this one.
“There was nobody any better prepared than we were in Utah,” Herbert said. “We’ll be better prepared for emergencies like this in the future.”
Because of this, Utahns have learned, he said, to store face masks with other emergency supplies — as “a necessary part of our 72-hour kits.”
Herbert said that much like car accidents, cancer and many other things, he wishes he could “do away with” COVID-19.
A vaccine, which he’s heard is coming before the end of the first quarter of 2021, he added, “will be the beginning of the end.”
The state has tested 836,218 people for COVID-19, including 6,248 people since Wednesday. The rolling seven-day average for positive tests is now 987 per day, with a 13.6% positivity rate, nearly double what it was weeks ago, Herbert said.
There are currently 201 people hospitalized with COVID-19 throughout Utah.
Bishop said the biggest worry would be overwhelming the hospital systems in the state, and for most of the duration of the pandemic, Utah hasn’t been close. But, the number of intensive care beds being used, particularly by COVID-19 patients, has doubled in the last few weeks.
“The people who get sick with COVID-19 are very, very, very sick, and each one that I see is very heartbreaking,” he said. “I wish you could see what it’s like to see someone with COVID-19, not knowing if they will survive. They’re all alone, writing goodbye notes to their children. That’s not something that is easy to watch.”
Bishop said the symptoms and conditions caused by COVID-19 can be long-lasting and can impact people differently even after they’ve left the hospital.
“The basic science is sound,” the critical care doctor said. “I would plead with you to wear a mask — especially the students in Utah County. Let’s set that expectation so that our schools can stay open, stay with our friends and be with our friends.
“The best science we have says wear a mask, wash your hands, watch your distance.”